Category Archives: faith

Flesh and Skin

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“The Practice of Wearing Skin,” a chapter by Barbara Brown Taylor in her book An Altar in the World, has me weeping (as has every chapter in the book).

If God became flesh (as Christians believe) or if God can be found within and among us (as I believe), then God loves the body. Each body. Lovely and irregular.

This idea links directly to a sweet, captivating story I saw yesterday of a father who tells his toddler daughter that she has a beautiful body–two strong legs on which she can walk and run, ears to hear voices and birds, a brain that can think and figure things out, a belly where food is digested to keep her healthy, and so on. [I can’t find the story! Can anyone else find it?]

The tears come because I have rarely loved my body and it never crossed my mind that God did. Taylor points out some reasons why we have a hard time loving our bodies: the Greek division between body and soul; the divide Descartes made between nature and reason; Protestant disdain for matters of the flesh; Freud and his sexual nonsense (my word, not hers); modern science that objectifies bodies and bodily functions; and an overlay of public sex from Victoria’s Secret to twerking.

I was terrified when Daddy made me touch him. I was ashamed of my body and the way it grew. I am embarrassed by the way it looks now. I am slothful when it comes to exercise and nutrition. I don’t like that it’s getting older and gray and sagging. I am loathe to admit these things semi-publicly.

But my body carries me around with some ease. It houses my brain and digests my food and allows my fingers to type. It feels pain, expresses empathy, and gives me access to sight, sound, touch, taste, and sometimes smell. It can do ordinary things like plant bulbs, read An Altar in the World, enjoy a cup of coffee, distract myself with email (stop it!).

God loves all that. God understands the shame, embarrassment, and slothfulness, and loves me anyway. Maybe it pisses God off that I don’t love my body well enough to care for it. New meaning to the prayer excerpt, “There is no health in me.”

My starting place this morning is to love my body as it is. While writing that sentence, I thought and wrote and scratched my head and shifted in my chair. My stomach growled. Then my mind turned toward gratitude. Taylor recommends that we pray in front of a mirror, naked (gulp), and give thanks for our bodies instead of rushing to cover them up. [Don’t children love to run around naked and sometimes even run outside that way?]

It is time now for me to change from comfy pj’s to comfy clothes to go get my package delivered yesterday to the apartment office. Naturally I will be properly clothed. But first I shall pause before the mirror and give thanks. Look how it can bend and stretch. Admire the shapes and scars. Wriggle fingers and toes and count them all like our parents did.

Isn’t that a good way to start the day?

Second (spiritual) Childhood

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I seem to have entered my second childhood, spiritually speaking. Earliest lesson that I remember from Sunday School: God is Love.

Decades have gone by; theological studies; ponderings. For many years I have labeled myself a Panentheist: in short, God infuses the cosmos and also transcends it (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panentheism).  Maybe that was my grownup way to understand God as Love that flows through us yet is greater than all, the Love that abides.

I have spent time in prayer. Always before, it was meditation or silent reflection. It is more likely now to be addressed to God, a surprise even to me!

How shall we find God? Tony deMello says it by looking at creation in a special way. If you look at the sky you might see clouds and the angle of light and outlines of trees and vast stretches of blue, but it becomes beautiful with that special way of looking. You will seek God in vain until you know God is not an object but a special way of looking.

As I go about the rest of this  Thanksgiving Day I will remind myself to see God and to see Love. My husband and I will go to a church potluck where there will be all kinds of people with whom I have a range of relationships. I will tune in to Love and look for God in each person.

For each of you, I am grateful. May our hearts swell a little more through the art and practice of Love.

Sacred Space (sermon)

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Sacred Space

Rev. Kathleen Ellis

September 29, 2013

 

The Episcopal Church taught me everything I knew about God. I had absorbed the idea that God is Love, Jesus was my friend, and of course, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Details of theology like the virgin birth, resurrection, the Trinity, or salvation only through Jesus, never made logical sense to a literal-minded 10-year old. I loved the music and my friends and stayed with the church through high school.

 

I found my way gradually to marriage, motherhood, and Unitarian Universalism.

When the boys were grown I followed my heart into seminary—Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. That’s where God was ripped away suddenly and without warning.

 

Let me explain. I had long ago left behind my childhood notions of God. It was a challenge to study religion in a Christian seminary where I was pushed toward a new understanding of theology. I wanted to stand on the edge of religious knowledge where it meets a great mystery beyond human understanding. What was the underlying message? What values still inform my life? We seminary students tried out all sorts of theories in class and in the weekly Chapel services.

 

Perkins Chapel is a lovely, old-fashioned chapel with a tall steeple and white columns at the top of a hill. Inside, there is a plain wooden cross on the sanctuary wall—it is part of Southern Methodist University, after all. One night in the middle of Domestic Violence Awareness Week on campus some students had prepared a special worship service to raise awareness. For this particular service, a startling image appeared on that wall. A photograph was projected and superimposed over the foot of that cross. It was the image of a naked woman–curled up on the floor, face down, utterly defeated. It was a jarring image of domestic violence.

 

I was stunned. Shocked. Furious! How could God let this happen?! Where was God for that woman when she needed help? I jumped to an obvious conclusion: There really IS no God!!

 

I turned and fled. . . . I ran sobbing back to my dorm room with my best friend in pursuit. I had a head start on her, though, and slammed my door with a bang. I wouldn’t let her in. She knocked, she pleaded, she slipped notes under my door. But I couldn’t face her or anyone else. I had to face my own fury and my ultimate isolation. God was dead to me.

I know I’m not alone in my divine isolation because I’ve heard stories from others. Writers, poets, and singers for over a century have declared the Death of God but neither God nor Goddess will ever die. Hindus incorporate thousands of deities; Buddhists have developed a religion with none. Atheists reject them all and agnostics continue to probe, explore, question, and doubt.

 

A young man approached me after a service. He was anxious and agitated as he waited to talk to me and finally blurted out, “I don’t love God anymore.” He went on to explain that if God knows everything that’s going to happen, why does he let bad things happen? He still believes in Jesus— and has no quarrel with the man. But he doesn’t love God and he doesn’t know what to do. It was an echo of my same feelings at Perkins Chapel.

 

The Rev. Joanna Crawford said that when she was a student minister, a woman came to her to talk about God. She was clearly upset. She had been raised “a believer,” but had learned more church history and how books were chosen to be included or left out of the Bible, and had learned that some of her Sunday School lessons from long ago were not literally true. She searched for a new church home and found Unitarian Universalism. She was reasonably happy there. But now she missed her prayer life, even if it no longer seemed real.

 

In the course of the conversation Joanna gently asked her, “Are you missing God?” The woman’s eyes welled up and she said yes.

 

She had what has been called a God-shaped hole in her heart. So did the young man who spoke with me. So did I that night at Perkins Chapel. It’s a hole that opens up when doubt overcomes belief.

 

This idea has resonated for centuries. In the 18th century, philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote,

There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.”

 

Today we can read it in the lyrics of a song by Tiffany Lee[i]:

“. . . Does the world seem gray with empty longing

Wearing every shade of cynical

And do you ever feel that

There is something missing?

There’s a god-shaped hole in all of us

And the restless soul is searching . . .”

 

We’re a restless people, working at work or home, endlessly engaged with electronic devices, computers, and games, serving as volunteers, driving our children to enrich their lives through art, music, and sports, cooking, cleaning, eating out. When anyone asks how we are, the typical answer is “busy.” Who has room for anything more?

 

Dr. Brené Brown is the Houston researcher we ministers have been studying for weeks. She describes the defensive shield of “numbing” that protects us from the crazy-busy lives many of us lead. When we don’t take the time for our souls to catch up with our minds, our feelings go numb. We might not do this compulsively or chronically, which is addiction, but we have a strong tendency to minimize our feelings, both positive and negative. Why in the world would we minimize positive feelings? One answer is that something wonderful is too good to be true. Disaster must be lurking around the corner. So instead of feeling joy, we try not to tempt fate and bring on that disaster.

 

It’s easier to understand why we might want to numb negative feelings. As Brown points out, “Americans today are more debt-ridden, obese, medicated, and addicted than we ever have been.” She goes on to say that in 2011 “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that automobile accidents are now the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States. The leading cause? Drug overdoses. In fact, more people die from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine drug use combined.”[ii]

 

Numbness. Isolation. A joy-shaped hole. How do we cope? We don’t have to use drugs. We can sedate feelings with a brownie, maybe 2. We can anesthetize feelings with wine. But the truth is that significant feelings don’t go away for long; they just get bigger. Feelings tug on you to pay attention to them. There is nothing inherently wrong with brownies OR wine. There IS someone wrong with using them to disguise, diffuse, and detach from the emptiness of your spirit.

 

Emptiness was sudden that night in the Chapel. The very idea of God was ripped from my soul like ripping away my skin. It felt raw and painfully tender for a long time. It was the wrenching loss of relationship like the death of a human love. My antidote to all of the losses and numbness was a sense of gratitude and attention to spiritual needs. Gradually I refilled my God-shaped hole with the practical idea that we are her hands and heart because clearly, we are not in control of creation or tragedy. Instead, we are the ones who respond with compassion to the terrible things that happen in our lives and those around us. It is not God’s responsibility but ours.

 

With gratitude and spirituality we can begin to believe in something bigger than ourselves—as big as our galaxy. Start by gazing into a starry night. Do we remember stars, we city dwellers who rarely see a night without light pollution? I remember stars.

 

On a memorable trip to Australia my first husband and our two sons drove an RV up a mountain to a campground. It was a clear, cold night—so cold that ice formed inside the windows, so clear and cold that stars filled the night sky all the way to the horizon in every direction. They made unfamiliar patterns, because we were in the Southern hemisphere. We were inside a bowl of stars! It was a sacred time to see so many of them at one time. Two messages came to us in that moment: One, we are tiny dots in the universe … and two, we belong to the universe just as surely as every other person or rock or tree.

 

And when we make that connection we have found Sacred Space.

 

Much more recently, and on my sabbatical two years ago, I traveled to India with a group of Unitarian Universalists. We were on a spiritual pilgrimage led by the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, a UU minister and a native of south India. We visited ancient and modern temples, mosques, and churches, taking in the diversity of religious practice along with the complexity of India. A pilgrimage is a way to touch the sacred in our lives.

 

The Shiva Temple in Chidambaram, India, had enormous impact.

A nightly ritual (to put the statue of Shiva “to bed”)

Roof open to the stars

Bells of all sizes ringing wildly in the stone temple (Inner thought–this is not noise! these are sound waves!

Hundreds of oil lamps burning

Hundreds of people pressed together, hands raised in homage

Priestly ritual, priestly blessing; a garland from Shiva presented to me by a priest, with a blessing (as though I had been ordained as a Hindu).

 

Without having to travel thousands of miles on a pilgrimage, you have probably read about them. Journeys to Mecca, to the Wailing Wall, Chimayo. In northern Spain, pilgrims since the Middle Ages have walked El Camino de Santiago Compostela. It became the subject of a film entitled “The Way.” Martin Sheen directed and starred in the story of a father whose estranged son had died on El Camino. He didn’t really understand why, but when he traveled to Spain to claim his son’s belongings—a backpack and all the necessary gear, the older man followed in his son’s footsteps and was himself transformed.

 

Sheen said that the story is about the search of every person on earth, whether we believe in God or not, for a singular “moment of clarity” when we realize we are loved. The Way—the Camino—attracts 100,000 pilgrims every year. Many of them are truly on an inner journey to find healing: a “moment of clarity” when they realize they are loved.

 

Sacred Space is available every day and everywhere because it relies on you. You just have to pay attention. When you are open to life or you are opened by life, you have entered sacred space. You don’t have to have a particular ritual or an intermediary. Rituals simply provide an experience that reminds you to open yourself to the sacred.

 

Sacred is the feeling that you belong and that you are connected to something beyond yourself. You might connect with a person, but it doesn’t have to be a person. Children’s author Byrd Baylor tells about following deer tracks when she looked up and saw “a young coyote trotting through the brush.” They stopped and looked at each other, unafraid, just a couple of “creatures following another rocky trail.” They looked at each other for a long time before they went on their way. Because of that encounter, Byrd Baylor says she “never will feel quite the same again.”[iii]

 

A farmer’s market is another example of sacred connection if you think about it. All those fruits and vegetables were planted and harvested by fellow human beings; they were probably grown in soil enriched by compost and worms, pollinated by bees or other creatures. The market brings together sellers and shoppers of all ages. We are all connected.

 

Someone sent me a photograph of a baby last week. This was no ordinary baby to me, because he was the son of a member of a church I once served. Tears sprang to my eyes because I don’t know that baby. I don’t even know his mother, who had joined the church after I left, but I did know the people who surrounded her with love. In the picture, mom held him in a fabric sling. His back was snuggled against her chest and his face looked straight out into the world. His eyes looked bright and curious. What kind of world will he inherit? How will he continue to feel that secure connection while he ventures forth into a universe not of his own making?

 

That one photograph reminded me how we of all ages share basic needs: Our bodies require nourishment or we will die. Our spirits require sustenance of a different kind or we will limit the full meaning of our lives. Whatever you believe to be sacred, be at one with it. Fill the God-shaped hole, the joy-shaped hole, the star-shaped hole, the fill-in-the-blank shaped hole.

 

You are a child of the universe for a lifetime.

You have enough. You do enough. You are enough.

Sacred wisdom is waiting for you.

Sacred wisdom is waiting inside you,

With a unique voice you join the chorus of humanity

Where all beings interconnect into a larger whole.

Listen!

Amen

 

Benediction (Rumi)

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.


[i] Tiffany Lee Arbuckle, Wayne Kirkpatrick (aka Plumb), “God-Shaped Hole,” on Beautiful History

[ii] Brene Brown, Daring Greatly (New York: Gotham Books, 2012).

[iii] Byrd Baylor, I’m in Charge of Celebrations (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986).

Prayer to Raise the Wage

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Some version of this I spoke at the March to Raise the Wage on July 24 in downtown Houston.

Let us pray:

God of many Names, let your presence be known.

Mystery of Life, fill our hearts this afternoon.

Our minds are full of the stories presented here today. They represent but three of the millions of low wage workers who must choose between paying the rent and feeding their families.

How closely linked we are—rich, poor, and in the middle. Poverty, wealth, power and powerlessness are interconnected and each of us is a part of that web of life.

We give thanks for all who advocate for a living wage, that they may be heard by employers, by communities, and by policy makers.

We call for fair pay so that full-time workers can live above the poverty line. A job should pull people out of poverty, not keep them in it. They’ll have money to spend on goods and services; money to save for emergencies; money to invest in education for the kids and for their own retirement.

We call for change in policies and managers who abuse their workers, that they will rise to a higher standard of decency and respect.

We call upon ourselves as consumers to hold companies accountable for the ways they treat their workers, and to work toward legal remedies.

We call upon you, God of our Hearts, Spirit of Life, to keep us united.

We pray all this in the name of all that is holy and whole.

Go in peace, Salaam, Shalom, İSí se puede!

 

 

 

 

In the Public Eye

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Goodness, gracious, what a week this has been! Generally speaking, clergy are sometimes asked to deliver a public prayer or something along that line. This week I had three different opportunities that came around serendipitously during the same week. Okay, part of it is that I’m the designated summer minister while the other three in our team are on vacation or study leave.

Cherry Steinwender, founding director of the Center for the Healing of Racism, asked me if our church would co-host a Community Dialogue on “The Legacy of Trayvon Martin: so that he may rest in peace.” That has been a plea by Trayvon’s parents, who have gone a long way toward advancing a national conversation about race in the United States. Their son was one more young person caught up in the fear and general unconsciousness about race. I feel sad about our vast separation along skin color lines, but grateful that we could encourage an honest conversation.

Participants packed the place. More and more chairs were brought in until there were anywhere from 75-90 people in close quarters. It was the most diverse group of people I have seen in one place with a common, interactive purpose.

We wanted to express feelings–confusion, anger, tears, and even some laughter. Ground rules were established from the start. I provided opening and closing words; others gave a short history of racism in the country and a little about what people were saying on opposite sides of Highway 288, one of Houston’s color lines.  Cherry facilitated as individuals shared their feelings. We tried (not always successfully) to keep speakers to 2 minutes each.

The collective dialogue was honest, respectful, and heart-felt. I would say that every one of us heard something to make us uncomfortable, but we stayed with it for two hours. Afterward, people made personal connections and invited one another to coffee, to lunch, or to another event. Our next event at the church is a video and discussion about Michelle Alexander’s scholarly work on the New Jim Crow (the prison system as modern segregation).

– – – – – – –

During the month of July, my sermon series has been on immigration, with the Big Idea = Welcome the Stranger. On the 21st I addressed the issue of minimum wage ($7.25 / hour OR the “tipped” wage of $2.13 / hour). The $2.13 hasn’t gone up for 22 years! The $7.25 was established 4 years ago. Anyway, I had read Saru Jayarama’s book Behind the Kitchen Door and decided it was sermon-worthy. Word got around to a former president of the church Board who has since moved to the west coast. Her daughter, who grew up in our church, is now an Ph.D. student and an intern with Restaurant Opportunities Center. ROC is establishing a presence in Houston and has joined with other organizations in campaigning to Raise the Wage.

So I met with ROC organizers and was invited to deliver the closing remarks at their March to Raise the Wage on Wednesday. We started at a downtown building where the cleaning staff gets low wages, marched past some of the others with our signs and chants and drums, and ended the rally with a few more testimonies from low wage workers and my remarks. (I’ll post them separately for anyone interested.)

– – – – – – –

Today I delivered and invocation / grace before the Greater Heights Chamber of Commerce. Board members Jacob  I was seated at a table for the Houston City Council, and met Council members Brown and Bradford, their Chiefs of Staff, a Constable, two photographers, and a few from the Power Women Group–they had 3 tables! There were women throughout the gathering of 200 folks, but the Power Women’s table sign caught my eye. My prayer was as inclusive as possible, knowing that it was a diverse group in attendance. I’ll post that later, too. Congressman Ted Poe was the keynote speaker.

– – – – – – –

Now it’s back to sermonating / sermonizing / wrestling with words for Sunday. It’s the last in the immigration series this time around, with stories of people I know who have crossed international borders to make a new life. There are some truly remarkable stories. Natalie, Lin, Rob, Fibi, Maru, Farah, and so many more, I salute you!

Moments

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view from my apartment

view from my apartment

Allen House

It was a pleasant evening in the gazebo (seen in the background). There were  birds of many kinds chirping, calling, chattering; kids shouting, crying, running; adults moving here and there through the courtyard,  talking amongst themselves or with their children.

One small boy was riding his little bicycle with training wheels. He was having a wonderful time; he was working very hard at it. His mother walked beside him, a hand on his shoulder.

Though I took a nice picture of the boy, a bench, and the wrought iron from inside the gazebo, it failed to upload! Just a memory now.  So the general picture above will have to do, along with your imagination. Where did you learn to ride a bike? a trike? a scooter?

Moments go by so quickly. Children grow in size and all of us grow in spirit, if we are so blessed. Take some time. It is your time.

The time you spend noticing a particular moment will be like adding a drop of beauty into your being. Repeat. You will become more grounded and better able to face the challenges of your day. Let love enter your heart and spill into the world. The world so needs you.

Summer Worship

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My life has been so rich and full that too often I push aside this writing opportunity. Months ago I resorted to a simple spreadsheet to keep track of projects and deadlines, people and promises. Perhaps I should have a similar spreadsheet or an even more visible reminder of personal interests.

With a newsletter deadline coming up next week, I need to focus on Summer Worship. The summer theme is Power and Justice: Out in the World. We’ll have a Hogwarts Camp for children and youth and I was thinking of Harry Potter and his friends’ quest for justice!

My intention is to recognize that while we may not agree on specific problems and solutions, we can learn something about how relationships with those who have very different views, opinions, and passions. It’s a spiritual challenge for all of us.

June Sundays

June 2, I’ll launch the series with a look at personal power: Authentic Power. What can one person do? What difference will it make?

June 9, the Rev. Christina Branum-Martin,  who moved last year to Decatur, Georgia, will preach on The Arc of the Universe. How can we relate to the stranger beyond the current political environment? How can a bystander become part of the solution? Christina’s older daughter is an activist against bullying in her school. How do we increase awareness of bullying and what do we do?  In the afternoon we’ll dedicate Christina’s baby with a special Blessing Service.

June 16, the Rev. Dr. Leonora Montgomery, on The Unique Power of Men. She is making a point to interview men in multiple generations to get a better sense of their understanding of power or frustration over lack of same.

June 23, the Rev. Bob Tucker on Justice from Jail. It has been 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his famous letter from the Birmingham Jail. Bob will address King’s understanding of justice and his movement to bring that to fruition.

June 30, the Rev. Bob Tucker will return for a sermon he calls “I Am a Man,” to speak on King as a full, rich human being. King was a deeply spiritual man, well grounded in his prayer life. He was passionate about economic justice and an end to war as well as racial justice. The complex nature of King as a person has been lost over the years, distilled into a clip from his “I Have a Dream” speech.

In July I’ll launch a mini-series of 3 sermons on independence and immigration (not yet set in stone):

July 7: Independence for Everyone? Many of our ancestors came here undocumented; today they would be denied entry. Who do we have yet to serve? Why don’t “they” just come here legally?

July 14: A Day in Court, based on experiences and observations of retired judge Susan Yarbrough and her new book (I’d better call her to make sure she’ll be in town on the 14th!) Bench-Pressed: A Judge Recounts the Many Blessings and Heavy Lessons of Hearing Immigration Asylum Cases

July 21: America’s Second Kitchen, with a focus on restaurant workers who cook and serve our food. Even with tips, a minimum wage of $2.13 that has not risen in a decade leaves millions in poverty. Some unscrupulous employers cheat workers out of the tip pool, too. Who are the people behind the scenes of our happy practice of dining out?

For  July 28, Aug. 4, and Aug. 11 , I’m contemplating a 3-week series on local justice issues. One good possibility is our own Healthy Parenting project with our African-American neighbors. We provide tutoring for school aged children, tutoring for single moms who are in college, and nurturing childcare for those moms while the tutoring and workshops are in session.

I wonder what other Houston-area issues I should address? Maybe I’ll also revisit the entire summer and look at local work in the areas of racism, immigration, and/or bullying. Actually, I’d like to keep those 3 weeks relatively open for the moment. The suggestion box is now open in the Comment section. ♥ Help me out, won’t you?

Incidentally, Daniel O’Connell will be back in the pulpit Aug. 18 and 26 with a two-part survey of Unitarian Universalism, especially geared to church shoppers.

Transformation as a sermon idea

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What is your take on transformation?

I just finished a very rough draft and condensed it to an outline for my sermon 2 weeks from now. This Team ministry is an extraordinary way to push each of us to pull our thoughts together early, to offer relevant material and ideas, and to suggest appropriate music and a story that will become the Big Idea for all ages.

The sermon series on Transformation begins April 20. My sermon, Life Story, is secheduled for the 28th at our Mid-Town location. Two weeks later, my content will be delivered live or via video at our two satellite locations. Fun stuff!

I hope to “get at” the dreams we have as (children and) adults to imagine ourselves and the world as different, ultimately accepting it (and ourselves) as beautiful, and discovering our own transformation. The basic steps I’ll address are these:

Acceptance

Imagination

Liminality (the transitional period from the old to the new)

Transformation

Spiritual Fulfillment / Acceptance and Gratitude

So now’s your chance to help me shape this sermon. Yes, I have a rough draft filled with my own reflections, stories, and message, but there will be more wrestling with all of it until that last moment before delivery. A gestational period, I suppose.

But now, it’s Friday evening at 6 p.m. I think I’ll have a glass of wine with my neighbors!

20 years and counting!

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of my Ordination!

Way last century, back in 1993, I was ordained by the members of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church. After the laying on of hands I think I was floating for weeks. Both sons Rob and Fred Nugen participated in the service and surprised me with a simultaneous kiss on each cheek in front of the congregation.

The Rev. Dr. Leonora Montgomery preached the sermon–and now I’m back in Houston, where she is Minister Emerita of Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church, retired (though still extremely active), and a member of the church I now serve, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston.

In that summer of 1993, freshly ordained and graduated from Perkins School of Theology at SMU in Dallas, I was in search of a congregation but without an income. Leonora graciously offered her garage apartment and many late night conversations in her kitchen. It was a bonus to have a swimming pool just 2-3 feet from my door. I continue to feel grateful for her kindness, generosity, and wisdom shared with so many colleagues and congregations.

I plan to celebrate today by working on my sermon. What a privilege it has been to delve into a topic, reflect on its spiritual aspects and why they matter, and craft a coherent message for people who have a variety of experiences and spiritual understandings. My sermon this week is actually on a universal theme: “A Good Birth, a Good Life, a Good Death.”

Life is sacred all the way from birth through death and into whatever beyond one might imagine. We fear aging and debilitating illness more than death. We can’t quite imagine death–what that means for us and how life as we know it will change after we’re gone. We’d be glad to live forever if we could stay healthy, vibrant, and wise. (Few of us wish to return to our youth and go through all the tough times again.)

Tomorrow my loving husband Jon Montgomery will take me to dinner for a different kind of celebration. Meanwhile I will dive back into this vocation that has taken me on an adventure of a lifetime.

Blessed and Happy and Full of Love

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So my earlier post was simply a link to Loco’s prescription for “surgically removing writers block” in a careful way. He started loosening up with a book he couldn’t put down; he exercised his mind by getting into a writers’ group; he chose a subject that would keep his interest and carry him forward; and he replaced the hate that was rising within him with love. He said a lot more than that but you should read it for yourself to get a fuller context: http://www.locoinyokohama.com/2013/03/05/how-to-surgically-remove-writers-block/

One challenge for me has been to live and work alone in Houston for most of the week while Jon lives and works alone in Austin most of the week. I’m not complaining, just observing that my tendency has been to come back to my apartment and either work some more or slip into some mindless tv or resort to comfort food.

Time to get out of that rut!

First stop, music. I changed my schedule to put me in Austin on Monday evenings where I can rehearse with Tapestry Singers and the small ensemble Loose Threads. It’s my 10th year and we’re coming up to my 20th concert on May 5. To return to that great community of women and song is a real lift to my spirits. In the car I can listen to mp3s of our songs to help implant them into my brain. By next week I should be able to sing along with greater accuracy.

Before starting this entry, I couldn’t find a radio station that suited me this evening, so I turned on Pandora and chose the Shuffle option to add interest. Folk, jazz, classical, piano concerti, bluegrass; people like Hubert Laws on flute, Dar Williams on vocals, Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, and already I have the makings of a musical feast!

Exercise was simply a walk around my neighborhood to loosen up my body and mind. Blackbirds were coming home from work, too, and making a racket that made me smile. Neighbor Alice, frail and elderly, was walking around the complex as usual, opening the door or gate for people if she is close by. She was a librarian before retirement–talk about a world of books! If she can get out for a walk several times a day I have no excuse. I do like to walk over to Memorial Park, close to my apartment, or to Hermann Park, close to the church. A beautiful day.

Yesterday Jon was here and we watched the movie Happy. I think next time someone asks me how I am, I’ll say “happy.” Much better than the usual “busy,” don’t you think? You CAN choose happiness.

A couple of interesting things are coming up in my work. On the 16th at 10am, a Blessing of the Animals. We have invited a local shelter to bring some of their adoptable pets for blessings and some extra love. I’ve been told that one year someone brought a donkey; another time, one of those hissing cockroaches (I’m not sure I’m up for that, actually).

In April, we will have a special Coming of Age worship service for ten young people. We’re so proud of them and their work all year long! They will be writing their own statements of belief and I’m sure each credo will rival any religious doctrine. When beliefs come from the heart at a time of spiritual awakening they touch all our hearts. This Friday I’ll get to meet with them during their lock-in to start planning the service with the kids and their advisors.

Also in April there will be a memorial service I will be privileged to conduct. It’s unusual to have this much time to plan such a service, but that’s what the family requested. Two sons will be my primary collaborators.

There is a good bit of work involved in preparing for special events but the payoff is huge. Rites of passage, all three, will include blessings for those beloved with whom we share an extraordinary life. Considering all these blessings from birth to death, along with our animal companions, love and happiness fill my spirit. May you be blessed and happy and full of love!